BENGHAZI, Libya - The Libyan government yesterday denied rebel reports that Moammar Khadafy’s youngest son, the leader of one of the country’s most skilled army brigades, was killed in a NATO airstrike on a town in western Libya.
Officials in the rebels’ de facto capital of Benghazi said that Khamis Khadafy was among 32 troops killed in a NATO strike early yesterday on a government operations center in Zlitan.
NATO said it was aware of the reports that Khamis had been killed, but it did not confirm his death. It said alliance strikes on Thursday night hit an ammunition depot and military police facility in Zlitan, which is the main front of fighting between rebels and Khadafy’s troops, 90 miles southeast of Tripoli.
In the capital, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said Khamis is alive and spoke to Libyan government officials yesterday to confirm his well-being. “He is OK and alive, and [reports of death] are just lies,’’ Kaim said.
He said the rebels spread reports of Khamis’s death to “distract attention’’ from the killing late last month of rebel military chief Abdel-Fattah Younis.
The rebel leadership has insisted Younis’s assassination was the work of the Khadafy regime, but several witnesses say Younis was killed by fellow rebels. The slaying has fueled concerns about unity within the rebel movement nearly six months after the revolt began.
Mohammed al-Rajali, a spokesman for the rebel leadership in Benghazi, said there were unconfirmed reports Khamis was killed when NATO hit the military center.
“We want to capture all of these criminals and try them and bring them to justice, but if killing them this way will stop the bloodshed I think it is another option,’’ Rajali said.
The death of Khamis, 27, would be a significant blow to the regime’s efforts to fight off the rebels.
He commands the 32d Brigade, also known simply as the Khamis Brigade, one of the best-trained and best-equipped units in the Libyan military.
Earlier this year, he led forces loyal to his father in an assault on the rebel-held city of Zawiya, where civilian protests against his father were crushed.
Khamis’s troops have been fighting rebels in and around Zlitan for months. The town is a major obstacle in the path of rebels from the nearby city of Misurata trying to make their way to Tripoli. The civil war has largely devolved into a stalemate.
It was not the first time Khamis has been reported dead by rebel forces.
In late March, rumors circulated that he was killed in an airstrike, only to be shown days later on television attending a celebration in his honor in Tripoli.
Khadafy’s sons and a daughter have all played roles in their father’s regime, some in diplomatic or business roles. His sons Mutassim, Khamis, and Saadi all head military brigades.
A third son, Seif al-Islam, has become the Western face of the regime, and before the uprising began in February he was put forth as the reformer.
In May, Libyan officials announced on state TV that another of Khadafy’s seven biological sons, Seif al-Arab, was killed along with three of the leader’s grandchildren in a NATO airstrike against his house in the Tripoli neighborhood of Ghargour. The elder Khadafy and his wife were inside but escaped unharmed, according to Libyan officials.
Khamis was injured in US bombing raids in 1986 shortly after Libya was blamed for coordinating a bombing in West Berlin that killed an American soldier and woman. He would have been 2 or 3 years old at the time.
Yemen Yemeni government forces clashed with supporters of a powerful tribe in central Sana yesterday, forcing residents to flee the area in fear of further fighting, witnesses said.
The clashes in the Hassaba district reflect the still tense standoff between forces loyal to ailing President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Yemen’s most powerful tribal confederation, the Ahmar clan.
Witnesses said the government’s elite Republican Guards were heavily deployed in Hassaba, positioning armored vehicles on one of the district’s main roads and taking over the Communication Ministry. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Egypt Egyptian military forces wielding batons and firing in the air dispersed dozens of activists holding a Ramadan meal in Cairo’s central square yesterday, according to witnesses.
The military troops forcefully drove the activists out of the square after they ended their communal meal to break the fast, which comes after sundown during the Muslim holy month. Egypt’s military rulers have signaled that they will no longer tolerate any gathering in the square, which served as the epicenter of the recent uprising.